On IBM and Seeking out Mentors, Sponsors and Coaches

Ok. First, I’ll confess. 

When I was outside IBM, I pictured it as a big AND slow moving ship….too slow for the speed I like to move at.

I pictured grey haired blue-eyed men navigating the big ship carefully in rough waters somewhere in the middle of the ocean and keeping it not only afloat but also flourishing after a century.

In a day and age when companies are born and dead before I can saw the word IBM, IBM has lived on for a long time.

A century. Over 100 years. IBM has stayed afloat and re-invented itself.

Stop. Breathe. Think about that..for a moment. 

Hit rewind…

I saw one of my first IBM computers in a very tiny lab during my undergraduate days in Trichy (South India).

Trichy is a very hot city throughout the year. Well, except for the monsoons. 

So, the precious IBM computer had to be placed in a tiny lab which was air-conditioned 24 hours to prevent the internal components from melting over.

I had to leave my shoes outside the lab to ensure the dust wouldn’t get inside the computer’s openings (remember, floppy disk days).

My fascination with IBM started then.

Fast forward now..

With that context, let me tell you about what happened on Wed this week.

I showed up to a webinar series that Janine Sneed, Chief Digital Officer, VP of Customer Success IBM Cloud and Cognitive Software runs as part of an internal organization called GROW (Guidance, Resources, Outreach for Women). 

Get it….Grow Women! What a fun name?!

Janine and her co-sponsors of GROW have taken it upon themselves to invest in women.

Janine had invited Linda Brown, Executive Succession & Development Partner to talk to women this Wed on the need for mentors, sponsors and coaches.

Given Linda’s experience in recruiting, talent management, workforce management, leadership development, mentoring, retention, and diversity….she killed it.

Everything you need to know to not only have a meaningful career, but also grow and pay it forward…Linda managed to coach in 50 minutes.

Here are a couple of snapshots of what Linda shared.

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Alright, that brings me to my observation

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Perception Error #1: Picture on the left

What happens when we perceive the world, not as it is, but as we are.

Perception Error #2: Picture on the right

What happens when we view a situation disparately.

Learning – We have to use our meta-cognition and real-experience to self-correct perception issues that are rampant in our understanding of the world.

And, that brings me to the story I want to share with you today.

My outside perception on IBM was SO wrong.

I have realized that in my last couple of years here.

IBM is a FAST moving BIG ship.

IBM is not a big AND slow moving ship. It moves faster than speedy me. I have to run to keep up with IBM’s innovative trends (AI, cloud, security in every industry you can name).

Every day, I rush to work after drinking my single cup of coffee (with milk, of course).

I do it because IBM is what I love the most….people…talented people…passionate people…driven people.


IBM has people that I love to learn from and collaborate with.

There is not one single day that is easy. 

But, I know that every single team member that I work across cross-functionally (across this planet) is trying their best to dig their oar in the rough waters and move this big ship forward in the right direction for our clients and IBM.


IBM believes in many different views, many different voices, many different colors at the table. 

IBM believes every body needs to bring their full self to the workplace, and engage in a world of inclusion. A four-time Catalyst award recipient, IBM was recognized in 2018 for the advancement of women in business.

I know what you are saying to yourself “Ambal, tie up the loose ends, as you always do in every story. Tell us about about the grey haired blue-eyed men who navigate the big ship carefully in rough waters.”

Not to worry. I haven’t forgotten.

As far as the grey haired blue-eyed men who I have learnt bleed blue and operate with the singular and unwavering focus to change the world by serving one client at a time…..well, they love hearing stories of how my parents mortgaged their house to buy their daughter a one way ticket for her to go build a life in the land of dreams. They tell me the most precious stories of their childhood. They tear up and give me a big hug when I open my heart to them and talk about my arduous journey to “the land of the brave and the free”. They also crack up when I joke about how frugality is written all over my South Indian genes. After all, grey haired blue-eyed men who navigate big ships…are people too…with big hearts.

So, let me wrap it up.

I know now.

I know at IBM “diversity” and “inclusion” are not brand gimmicks.

I know because IBM not only includes me but invests in me. (Eternally grateful to these 2 stalwarts – Julie Lockner, Daniel Hernandez)

IBM invests in me.


A nobody.

A South Indian girl.

A poor South Indian girl.

A poor South Indian girl whose big-bright-shiny-eyes opened up wider when she saw that first IBM computer in a tiny lab.

I am an IBM-er and I am proud of it.

Be brave and show up

Sometimes, as my heart deals with grief, all I can do is get up in the morning and show up to where the sun is shining brightly.

Even that simple act is such a big sign of bravery.

And, I know that is what Daddy would want me to do.

On Feeling Sadness and Finding Healing

The boys were out of the house for a couple of hours yesterday morning. I should have just napped and caught up on much needed rest. Instead,as always, foolishly, I tried to get through my never ending list of todos.

I filled the house with music. No upbeat peppy songs. Somehow, something lead me to play some sitar and flute music. As the music streamed through my laptop, I went about chores and todo list.

We all store up pain and sadness in our hearts…we lock them away carefully. And, it is quite amazing how the right music evokes all that sadness back. Today’s sitar and flute music, possibly touched the innermost sadness and pain in my heart.
I went through a range of emotions.

Have you noticed how the early morning is shrouded in darkness? Then the sunlight starts clearing up that darkness.
In the beginning it is just a streak of light and a lot of darkness.
Then that streak grows, just a little at a time, until the day dawns…and, it is as if the darkness never even existed in the first place.

That is what the sitar and flute music did to me today. They flew into my heart, just a little at a time, until the sadness was all lifted…..and, it is as if, the pain never even existed in the first place.

Have you experienced this feeling?

I realized that despite every pain that I have endured, I have to feel grateful for my life.

I am always in awe of the musicians that have the power to make music that reaches the innermost corners of our heart.

Here is to all the pain and sadness that you and I endure.
And, here is to all the healing that has happened and will happen.

Read this aloud to yourself…slowly and as if you really mean it.
“In our darkness, there is no darkness
With you Oh Lord, the deepest night is clear as the day.”

May peace prevail in the innermost corners of your heart and mine.

Om Shanti.

On Holding your Head High

Thatha (Grandpa TVS) told me to live like Poet Bharathiyar’s Pudumhai Penn (The New Age Woman). Bharathiyar was a visionary, and amongst other notable poets who fought for women empowerment.

Here is one of Bharathiyar’s poetry:
Nimirndha nan nadai naer konda paarvaiyum
Nilathil yaarkkum anjaatha nerigalum
Thimirndha gnana cherukkum iruppadhaal
Semmai maadhar thirambuvadhu illaiyaam.

English Translation:
Her head held high, and looking straight through with piercing eyes,
Unafraid of any one because of innate integrity,
Possessing assuredness born of courage of conviction.
The New Age Woman never feels inferior to any.

On Work Life Blend

We all seek to find balance amongst our various responsibilities.
It is easier said than done.

My colleague Anne and I caught up after work hours on Monday. Anne thanked me for always being available to her. I told her this – “Anne, Yep! I am always available to you. Because, you are one of my favorite girls. Moreover, over the years, I have learnt there is no such thing as work life balance for me. There is ONLY work life blend.” Anne agreed with me and appreciated my observation.

I have all kinds of asks of myself and my life. For example, I don’t believe in not showing up to one the boys concert during work hours. I also don’t believe in not working after I get back home because there should be supposedly be clear boundaries between work and life.

Given the contradictory asks that I have of myself and my life, I do what works for me.
I huddle with my colleagues both during and after work hours to make progress on projects.
I start meetings early or leave late during weekdays…whatever works on that day.
I gain permission (by building trust) to reach colleagues when I have to.
I give colleagues permission to call me when they have to.
I routinely pour over work stuff during the weekends.
I want my boss and colleagues to know that I will always rock heaven, deep earth and everything in between to keep moving the ball forward on all my projects…no matter what the odds.

I also show up to most of the boys events….even if it means showing up a few minutes late.
The boys are elated to see me when I rush in to a performance hall or tournament and wave my hand crazily at them.
I want them to know that they are very important to me…and I will always show up to cheer and support them…no matter what the odds.

In my current state of life, given my varying responsibilities, there can’t be clear boundaries between work and life. If I want to be able to be a parent and an employee, I can’t balance…I need to blend.

Think about it. What works for you?

Whether it is work life balance or work life blend…you do what is right for YOU.
It will all work (pun intended) out eventually!